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Legal fight continues over Fronton Island

Last year, a team of Texas Rangers led an operation to secure the 170-acre Fronton Island in the Rio Grande from cartel control, after the federal government allegedly turned a blind eye to transnational criminal organizations using the location as a launching point for years.

Now, the federal government wants to oust state officials from the island and has threatened to trespass the state, further demanding border security infrastructure be removed.

The operation to secure Fronton Island began when Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham gave the green light, citing research by the General Land Office (GLO) showing the State of Texas owns the island.

The International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which is an international agency tasked with enforcing the 1970 Treaty to Resolve Pending Boundary Differences and Maintain the Rio Grande and Colorado River as the International Boundary, says the island belongs to the federal government and that the state’s border security operations are in violation of the treaty.

In a letter from the IBWC to the GLO, the IBWC cites a provision in the treaty that details who owns what when the flow of the river changes. Other regulations in the treaty are designed to prevent any significant changes in how the Rio Grande or Colorado River flows, to prevent either nation from gaining or losing land.

It explains that when river flow changes result in a loss of property for one state, that state has three years to pay for restoring the river back to its original flow — otherwise they cede sovereignty over that land to the other state.

It then explains how surveys conducted between 1972 and 1978 placed the flow of the Rio Grande to the south of Fronton Island, and that because Mexico never attempted to correct the flow, Mexico ceded Fronton Island to the United States.

Because the treaty awards ownership to the federal government, the IBCW warned Texas they were trespassing on federal land.

“We would also like to point out that trespassing onto Federal land may have occurred as a result of the previously unapproved completed work. Our documentation reflects that Fronton Island is federal property under the jurisdiction of the USIBWC,” the letter states.

Texas officials built a dirt bridge to get access to the island, cleared brush to prevent the cover from being used to conceal criminal operations, and built a concertina wire barrier.

The IBWC wants all of that taken down and removed.

“As USIBWC asserts that Fronton Island is federal property and is under the jurisdiction of the IBWC, we note that the State of Texas has undertaken the following activities without permission from the USIBWC: (i) built two sediment bridges between the Texas bank of the northern channel to Fronton Island; (ii) cleared vegetation on Fronton Island; and (iii) placed concertina wire along the banks and in other areas of Fronton Island.”

“We respectfully request that the Texas General Land Office remove the obstructions and reestablish the ability for flow in the existing channel north of the island.”

Speaking with News Nation, Buckingham pushed back against the IBWC’s claims, noting the GLO is the official mapping agency for the state and stands by her agency’s findings that the island is state property.

Buckingham also said the move was a politically motivated act by the Biden administration, asserting that for years federal authorities allowed extensive transnational criminal operations to occur on the island. She described how state law enforcement found buildings built by the cartels, in addition to finding stashes of explosives, firearms, and drugs.

“That land is Texas. We are clean in our legal right. Now they are going to throw whatever legal stones they can at us that is clearly evident. But I am not going to apologize for securing the border and for making Texas safer,” Buckingham said.

While the IBWC demanded the GLO submit a response with a detailed schedule of the state’s timeline needed to comply with surrendering the island, Buckingham has indicated she has no intention of surrendering and will fight the matter in court if forced to.

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